A new study has concluded that loneliness spreads through social networks and communities like a disease, starting at the fringe of a social circle and infecting large parts of the group. If University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo and his colleagues are right that loneliness is contagious, what’s the cure?
Absorb happiness from cheerful friends: We think of lonely people as loners, says Tara Parker-Pope in The New York Times. But even the most social among us gets lonely—"the average person experiences loneliness about 48 days a year." You may want to choose your companions strategically. According to the study, interacting regularly with a vivacious friend can decrease that rate "by about 5 percent," while "a lonely friend can add 17 days of loneliness" to your life each year.
"Why loneliness can be contagious"
Conceal your misery — for everyone's sake: The study makes sense if you think about it, says Deborah Kotz in U.S. News and World Report. Telling a friend about "how 'out of the loop' and disconnected" you feel "can leave both people feeling down." By determinedly exuding a positive attitude, especially as get older, you can counteract the viral spread of loneliness.
"Loneliness is contagious: 4 ways to stay connected as you age"
The answer isn't so simplistic: As a nation, says Alice Park in Time, we must continue to build social networks, towns, and other communities that "encourage regular interaction" to prevent Americans from drifting to the lonely fringes. If this study’s right, we’re literally happiest and healthiest when our neighbors aren’t sad.
"Study: Loneliness can be contagious"